“Yo! Edwin!” A large man grunted and jogged to catch up to an even larger man in the hallway. “Edwin! We got a job! Need you to run eyes. Jackass is taking over your guard shift.”
The hallways of the secret warehouses and docks under and in back of the mall were always weirdly cold in a way that air-conditioning, even the hyperactive AC of the mall, couldn’t explain. Edwin, the bigger man looked back over his shoulder. While his right hand stayed in place on the butt of his sawed-off shotgun, his other hand subconsciously tried to rub the chill off his forearm.
“Yeah, Guillermo. I been on since last night. Don’t think I can do it. Melisa gets out of camp at 3 on weekends and I gotta be home.”
“Shit pal, can’t your wife handle it? Your girl I mean?”
The baby faced mercenary smiled but shook his head. “Marcy usually does on weekdays, but not weekends. She’s got this house cleaning gig and all…”
Guillermo flinched. “Well hell. We’re gona be back by then anyway. This is a quickie. The boys with the lift are already in route and all. Bob said to grab you.”
Edwin didn’t like the sound of it. “Cab?”
“Yeah. It’s a disappearing cargo trick. Those are easy since we got the lateral lifts. Good cover too.” The tan man grinned, his moustache emphasizing his teeth. “I’m carrying the empty.”
“So we get to pigeon if we get caught. Great. You are empty right up until the point where they hitch you up to a newly stolen trailer of … whatever.”
“Don’t think of it like that. Look, the boss said to put you on it. You don’t like it, talk to Bob.”
“Bob can’t do anything but follow orders, you know that.” Edwin scratched his round face and looked up the hall. “I mean, they call me a meat head, but dude can’t muster the brains to question or plan. Why he’s the boss is anyone’s guess.”
“Loyalty and he’s so wimpy that he couldn’t even do this job if he wanted to, the little twerp. Look, I get you. You can’t do it, you can’t do it. It’s a paid gig though and if they ever catch us going short we’ll be in shit from the very top. Like, Loveless shit.”
“Yeah. I know. I…” The big man’s resolve broke. “G, don’t sweat it. I can do this thing. You promise I can be in my car by 2, though right?”
“I will do what I can, but if we’re that late, we’re super fucked already. Don’t worry pal, I got you.”
“Yeah. it’s nice to have someone watching my back.” The two men smiled, agreements both spoken and unspoken exchanged. “Hey, let’s get on the road. If we’re doing this, let’s get it going.”
“Uh… Oh, Ok. You’ll want to get something from the armory though.”
“Yeah. Next stop. This thing ain’t right for the job,” the big man shook the shotgun carefully as he made his way further up the hall.
The door marked “cold storage” had a touch pad on it and Edwin punched in a code. With a pop, the door opened. Inside an array of weapons lined the walls. Everything from small handguns meant to be hidden, to knives meant to be thrown to rocket propelled grenades meant to blow up tanks lined the shelves of the room. Suits of tactical armor and infiltration gear were folded and stored. A small war could be fought with the contents of this room and it was all highly orderly. Clearly, they wanted to standardize on certain makes of particular types of equipment and Edwin checked his sawed-off shotgun in on a rack with a number of identical weapons. Further down the row he found what he was looking for. A .44 magnum auto.
“You’re carrying the high heat?”
“Yeah. If we get in trouble we’re likely going to be shooting at cars. I’ll pack a 9 as well, but I want to be able to take out an engine block.”
“Good thinking. Is that standard for eyes on a truck job?”
“Is for me. 9’s are good at stopping a dude. I’d rather take out dude’s ride. Loveless comes up with the play, but he’s smart enough not to tell a man what kind of weapon he should shoot. Not everyone can handle the kick on this thing, even sitting down and braced.”
“Yeah, but if you trash the car and leave the dude, you leave a witness.”
The man focused on inspecting the weapon, but turned contemplative. “You know G, we been at this a while. Ever since Melissa started actually talking and thinking, you know … past the cute bundle phase into being a real kid and all, I’m thinking maybe I shouldn’t kill a guy just … because.”
“That’s not a plus in this line of work.”
His head snapped up from his inspection of the weapon. “Oh, don’t get me wrong, somebody gets nosey I’ll blind side them with a right hook. Get too close and I’ll blow them away, but avoiding it is probably best, you know, since we’re already sneaking around. But still, I’ll be prepared for anything. I mean, you know, safety first and all.” The man holstered the massive weapon in a plastic case and went looking for the smaller gun just in case he had to shoot a bystander.
The roadside diner was a thing of chrome and pink leather. Seemingly imported from the desert, it sat at an old intersection of two busy state roads in the middle of nowhere. A different kind of desolation from the desert, wet as opposed to dry. A huge parking lot welcomed truck drivers with easy access on and off of the two roads that bypassed and predated the major interstates in this portion of North Florida.
A young man with an expensive haircut and road-weary clothes sat at a booth. He drank coffee from a coffee cup that did not fit right into the saucer. His eyes peacefully drank in everything around him, including an obviously uncomfortable trucker running in from the scorching parking lot.
The man burst through the door. An old long sleeve shirt draped lazily over the thinnest of wife-beaters, stretched to near bursting over a barrel chest and belly. Behind the counter, the oldest of the wait staff shook her head.
“Melvin, I swear to god I’m going to start charging you.”
The man looked sheepishly back. “Sorry, Karen. Need to lay off the chili dogs.”
“Sorry my ass, if you didn’t eat like you was a teenager… Go on sweetie. But see a doctor will ya? And remind your wife that she needs to give you shit for all the shit you give me.”
“She already did!” The trucker sprinted to the bathroom as the older woman shook her head, half laughing, half disgusted. On her way to the bathrooms she grabbed a well-used “out of order” sign and hung it on the door.
The young man crinkled his nose and tried in vain to get the coffee cup to sit straight next to the spoon. In the end, he pushed the whole thing back slightly to marvel at the way it actually did fit, odd angle and all. Even things that didn’t fit did, even if they fit uncomfortably.
Into the gleaming chrome, glass and tackiness strode an odd figure in a light robe with stars and comets on it. Bald, fat and unshaven, the odd man who wore more years than apparel strode up to the table.
“You are still going with that look Johnson?” the younger man said as the bald man slipped into the booth.
“Yeah, why not?”
“As long as you keep the front closed, I guess.” The man took a sip and scribbled into a notebook. “I got your message. Something urgent? You needed an assist or something? Your note wasn’t exactly clear.”
“Not an assist as much as … well … can you feel it?”
The young man looked out, as if smelling the air. His eyes squinted, catching a sent. “Yes. Like a breeze, getting stronger. Really, though, you brought me in for that?”
“Well, for the record, Junior, I don’t need permission to ask you to come talk to me,” he grumped, “And… well, kinda. ”
The younger man smirked with half of his face “Kinda.”
“Yes. That breeze. I need for you to look into it.”
The younger man shook his head. “I’m supposed to be in DC and New York. I thought we’d agreed that I’d stay in the north east.”
“Northeast isn’t where the action is. The story is here.”
“Then it’s a good thing our best man is here, Johnson. You are the ace.”
“Was the ace.”
The younger man rolled his eyes. “You covered San Fran in the day. That’s the most active we’ve been since… what, the 30’s?”
“Yes but this is your show now. I can’t do it.” He leaned back as the waitress set down a mug of coffee with a side of stink eye at his clothes. “I shouldn’t do it.”
“What” the younger man leaned forward. “Because you are old? That’s crap and you know it.”
“Because I’m dying jackass!”
The shout carried across the diner. The waitress, who had been about to take their order paled and left. But the startle from it died quickly. The two men resumed their conversation.
“That…” The younger man looked him up and down. “You look fine.”
“Yeah, well, got hit by a fucking car of all things. Back is a mess. And knees. Went to the hospital and they patched me up.” He looked up from his mug and caught the younger man’s eye. “but then they released me.”
“With a prescription for pain meds.”
The younger man shook his head at the ghastly news. “On paper, I hope.”
“Yeah. Got the first one filled ok, but the ones after, the physical therapy appointment, any fucking record…”
“Like the fucking wind!”
“Oh shit, man. What did you do?”
“I did what any sane person would do. Found a fucking drug dealer.”
The big rig felt weird to Edwin without the trailer. While it really didn’t feel any different, especially sitting in the passenger’s seat, the picture of a high, short, top heavy looking vehicle gave him tension across his shoulders. He was relieved when the gleaming diner emerged from the trash pines and underbrush.
“So, how do we know this guy is going to be away from his truck?”
“It’s a loveless thing. He knows. You been on things for the boss before. They make no sense but they always work out.”
“Except when it don’t.” Edwin looked out the window. “I miss working for jerry. That made sense. Rough up the dealers, take the cut, do security. Maybe it wasn’t taking a truck, but it was honest. There was a service, protection for money. Loveless is… he just… I don’t know…”
“Yeah. I miss Jerry too. But he crossed Loveless. Got off light with exile. Nice he had someplace to go when the consolidation went down.”
“Yeah but still. Loveless.is… she’ll he’s always nice to people to a point, but the way he works is just … it gives me the creeps.”
“Yeah, but we’re on the winnin’ side of it. Better than loosing.”
“I guess. Still, don’t you miss the way we used to just shake down the freshmen for lunch money in highschool? I tell you, the first time that actually worked out, I knew that was my calling.”
Guillermo smiled. “Yeah, you are a hell of a thug, but you have to get modern. What, you think you can support your little girl by just random mugging and bullshit? Who even carries cash anymore?”
“Yeah. I still feel like the shift from muscle to sneaking around doesn’t properly exploit my skillset to its fullest potential.”
“Man, you just need a vacation. Even if you like your job gets old after a while.”
Edwin stared out the window at the fast approaching crime scene. “Yeah. Maybe.”
“Your fucking me. Instead of going back to a hospital, you go to a street pusher?”
“No and don’t project your fantasies onto me, I’m not your type. No, I had horrible pain, no pain pills, no record of jack due to our wonderful constitution and the drug dealer could give a fuck who you are.”
The young man considered this for a while, running his hands though his well-groomed hair. “So… how are you doing?”
“How do you think I’m doing? I’m on the fucking H and horribly addicted. I’m patching my shit together mostly because I can rob the pusher blind. Not being remembered does have its perks sometimes.”
“And its drawbacks.”
“Yeah. No shit. Just got to spread my shit around. Good thing I always had an affinity for lowlifes. Anyway, I can’t go. It’s your show.”
“North Florida? Land of humidity, bibles and rednecks? Get someone else.”
The older man was resolute. “No. There is no one else. Believe me I thought about it. Look Junior, I know New York and DC is way more comfortable for you. You’re a queer. Queers fit in there. It’s nice to have a community and I respect that. But you got to think about the story here. The history. This is where things are happening. And you are a Chronicler. When the history of the fantastic is written, you write it…”
“…Because we’re the only ones who can,” The young man finished.
The younger man could not meet the older man’s eyes so he stared out into the parking lot. “So what happens to you?”
The older man sighed and ran his hand over his bald head. “I don’t know. I’m giving you my books. I… I’m not going anywhere good, Junior, you know that.”
“Fuck man” He hung his head. “I’m … sorry.”
“Yeah. Me to. You know how it is for us though, something always gets you. And there are so few. More new ones lately though. I think there was a new kid. Girl. In New Mexico. Glenda went to get her.”
“Just like Mur did for me.”
The old man nodded. “Taught you. The story … it’s not the history. The wind scrubs it all away. People forget. The story is what counts.”
“Yeah. The past isn’t what it used to be, eh?”
“It never is.”
“So really… Are you going to be ok?”
“No. But I’ve lived for long enough and saw much. Had some kids that loved me when they saw me and thought I was a prick when they didn’t. Pretty typical actually.”
“I never knew that. They aren’t Chroniclers are they?”
“No. No. Never works like that. Random. Never know who gets a power, eh? One’s a reporter, but not a Chronicler. Only the wind knows who will get the change of the strange.”
Meeting his eyes once more, the young Chronicler asked, “And you think there will be more? Others, I mean… Not just us? Different?”
“Yes. There already are. If you focus, you can taste it. And there was a pulse. A strong pulse, just this morning. I fear that it will accelerate.” He reached out for his coffee mug and added, “possibly very quickly.”
The Strange – Episode 17 – The Job and the Work – Part 2